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CAIA vs CFA: Competing or Complementary? Which is Better?

caia vs cfaThe CFA and CAIA designations attract a very similar pool of candidates: those who are committed to a career in the field of investment and financial analysis. However, there are notable differences between the credentials. These differences can help decide which designation to pursue or whether to go for both.

CAIA vs CFA: A Comparison

Similarities between CAIA vs CFA

Both CFA and CAIA are “programs” (or designations) that you can earn through an exam series. The entry barrier for both certifications is quite low — candidates only need a bachelor’s degree for CFA and none (for now, at least) for CAIA.

Differences: CFA compared to CAIA

CFA has a much bigger membership basis than the CAIA. In fact, as of 2023, there are about 190K+ CFA Charterholders across the globe. In contract, CAIA was established in 2002 and currently has about 13,000 members.

The CFA program offers a comprehensive educational program on traditional investments, while CAIA focuses on alternative investments.

Because of this, the CFA program is more “static” because of its emphasis on traditional fundamentals. That is, the CFA exam doesn’t change much from year to year. However, the CAIA program is more dynamic, which is in line with the AI industry’s rapid development.

CAIA vs CFA Summary

CFA CAIA
Prerequisites Bachelor’s degree (any country),
or final year of your bachelor’s program, or any combo of college + work experience that totals 4 years
None, but expect you to have basic knowledge in finance.
Number of exams
3 Levels
2 Levels
Standard registration and exam fees Level 1: $1,080 ($350 enrollment fee + exam fees of $940-$1,250)
Level 2: $940-$1,250
CFA Level 3: $940-$1,250
Total = $3,170-$4,100
Enrollment fee: $400
Level 1: $995-$1,395
CAIA Level 2: $995-$1,395
Total = $2,390-$3,190
Other requirements after passing the exam 4 years of relevant experience 1 year of relevant experience (with bachelor’s degree); 4 years of relevant experience (without degree)
Affiliate members For those who want access to CFA publications, networking, and events For those who have passed all the exams but haven’t completed the work experience requirement
Suggested study hours per exam
250 hours
200 hours
The exams are given how often? Level 1: 4x per year
CFA Level 2: 3x per year
Level 3: 2x per year
Level 1: 2x per year
CAIA Level 2: 2x per year
Recent exam pass rates Level 1: 37% (August 2023)
CFA Level 2: 44% (August 2023)
Level 3: 47% (August 2023)
Level 1: 48% (September 2023)
CAIA Level 2: 65% (September 2023)

CAIA vs CFA: Which One is Better?

Given the long history, bigger membership base, and broader scope in traditional investment, CFA is the preferred designation if you are going for a general career path related to traditional investment, such as fund manager and security analyst. The flip side is that it is hard to distinguish yourself when there are more than 190,000 CFA chartered members across the globe.

In contract, alternative investments is a much smaller niche. Therefore, the CAIA will likely remain smaller than the CFA in terms of popularity and membership base. At the same time, it is an exciting and rapidly developing segment within investments that attract professionals who want to specialize in this niche. If you are interested in the alpha and want to stand out from the crowd, the CAIA could be the best designation for you.

In fact, more CFAs are getting the CAIA title to get the best of both worlds.

Is CAIA Useful after Getting the CFA?

CFAs are going for the CAIA for different reasons. Some CFAs are genuinely interested in learning more about alternative investment. If you flip through the books, you will see that the topics are actually quite interesting. And the topics are different from the CFA curriculum, like hedge fund strategies and real estate. The books are kept up-to-date, too. (And that’s very important in this industry).

Some people want to get the CAIA designation before it gets more difficult. Understandably, the CAIA association doesn’t want to make it super hard in order to push up the membership at this stage. After all, the CAIA exams have the highest pass rates in the 60+%. However, once it gets a critical mass of members, I can see how they want to make it more difficult. In the future, I can see the CAIA designation having a pass rate similar to CFA (high-30% to mid-40%), or at least CPA (around 50%). Plus, you should be aware that the CAIA pass rate is trending downwards.

CAIA is worth it if you are interested in, or would like to specialize in alternative investments in your long-term career.

Next Step

Whether you want to take the CAIA as your first designation or get it after your CFA, you can learn more with our help!

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